New insights into gender inequalities at work

Policies and practices of gender equality promotion at the workplace show insufficient results, according to the findings of a study by the Hans-Boeckler Foundation. The study, published in January 2010, is considered one of the most comprehensive pieces of research on gender gaps at establishment level in Germany to date. It concludes that not only management, but also works councils and trade unions, fall short in promoting gender equality in practice.

In January 2010, the most comprehensive report on gender equality at establishment level in Germany was published. The report is the outcome of two years of cooperation between 16 researchers from various institutes and universities, overseen by four members of the Hans-Boeckler Foundation (Hans Böckler Stiftung, HBS).

Details of study

The study is a follow-up to the Women Data Report 2005 (DE0601202F) on gender gaps at labour market level. It contains six chapters which extensively report on the quantitative and qualitative research findings regarding differences among female and male employees in relation to occupation, forms of employment and working time, wages, quality of work and career options in private businesses. The institutional framework as well as the individual and the establishment-specific factors shaping the gender gaps are debated at length. Based on surveys carried out by the authors in their respective fields of expertise, the report presents new findings on the differences between businesses and therefore adds to the debate on the effect of company strategies. Two chapters examine gender equality policies at national level and also analyse equality practices at establishment and company level.

Main findings

Occupational segregation

The ‘status’ report on gender gaps in the workplace reveals that such gaps are persistent, but not static. Research carried out by Achatz, Beblo and Wolf on occupational segregation – based on the ‘linked employer-employee dataset’ (LIAB) of the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, IAB) – shows that from 1996 to 2005, occupational segregation decreased slightly more at establishment than at labour market level. It was lowest in larger establishments with younger staff of either high or very low qualification levels and where works councils were represented. Whereas occupational segregation has slowly decreased, segregation by forms of employment is extensive and increasing – particularly in the private sector, as shown by Fuchs, based on a survey of micro census data and on the DGB-Index, an employee survey carried out by the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB).

Working time

In terms of working time, a gender gap emerges in relation to real weekly working time of 11.4 hours. This is mainly attributed to the fact that in west Germany, 49% of all women (35% in east Germany) work part time, whereas 92% of all men (89% in east Germany) work full time. The researchers Klenner, Kohaut and Höying highlight that the gender gap in working time negatively affects both men and women. They differentiate between voluntary (individual choice) and involuntary (due to employers’ working time arrangements and staffing practices) practices regarding part-time and full-time work. Gender stereotyping by management and works councils may segregate men into full-time work and women into part-time jobs. This cultural dimension is supported by the authors’ findings (IAB establishment panel data) on the markedly different distribution of part-time work and of employee gender in part-time and full-time work in east and west German establishments within a sector. The authors suggest reconsidering the length of working time as a gender equity issue as it may affect status, wages, career options and work-life balance.

Other determining factors

Forms of employment and working time appear to have a stronger effect than gender on the perceived quality of work, according to the analysis by Fuchs on the DGB Index. For instance, non-standard forms of employment minimise the chances of reaching management positions for both men and women. Based on data from the Socio-economic Panel (Das sozio-oekonomische Panel, SOEP), Holst and Krell reveal the low, and even decreasing, representation of women in leading management positions. A slight increase of women in middle management is visible, but more often in female-dominated establishments. A survey on the gender pay gap (IAB establishment panel data) by Ziegler, Gartner and Tondorf estimates a pay gap of 23%. It is larger in female-dominated establishments, in those with a predominately male leadership, and in businesses not covered by a collective agreement and without works council. Moreover, there is a decisive difference between east and west German establishments. The authors also analyse the instruments and practices of gender-neutral wage setting at company level.

Equality policies and practices revisited

The report begins with an analysis of the German policy framework (‘governance’) promoting gender equality at company level. The authors Bothfeld, Hübers and Rouault focus on legislation, the regulation of enforcement and implementation, and the monitoring of instruments. A comparison of German national strategies with those of France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States (US) concludes that there is a dominance of ‘hierarchical-passive’ regulation, meaning legislation without comprehensive regulation of enforcement, and work–life balance policies. On the other hand, forms of ‘hierarchical-activating’ regulation demanding proof of implementation at company level, such as reports, plans and monitoring, are underdeveloped.

Referring to the critical findings of the report, the researcher Maschke questions in the final chapter equality implementation practices at establishment level. Based on a review of the research literature, the strategies in place are introduced and critically evaluated – namely, equal opportunities, gender mainstreaming and diversity management. Maschke as well as the other authors conclude that management, but also works councils and trade unions, fall short in promoting gender equality in practice. Instead of rhetoric, greater proof of implementation practice and a change in legislation facilitating collective law suites is called for.


Projektgruppe GiB, Geschlechterungleichheiten im Betrieb. Arbeit, Entlohnung und Gleichstellung in der Privatwirtschaft, Berlin, Edition Sigma, 2010.

Birgit Kraemer, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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